Enhancing the capabilities of small producers in developing countries to meet global challenges: an investigation into the contribution of international craft development initiatives.
Reijonen, Eeva Katriina
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Worldwide, externally supported craft development initiatives aim to enhance the capability of local craft producers to succeed in globalized markets. However, the contribution that these organizations make towards the abilities of local actors remains unclear. Following a hermeneutic reflection on literature, empirical field experience derived from the African and South Pacific contexts and a multiple case study analysis of craft development organizations, the research investigates the pre-conceptions that lie behind approaches adopted in craft development initiatives. Two emerging elements of particular importance have been identified. Firstly, the Western ideological notion of craft, influenced particularly by the Arts and Crafts movement, and secondly the ethos of social design, built on the legacy of the appropriate technology movement. It is argued that both of these have a constraining impact on the development of indigenous design skills that underpin successful participation in global markets. Noting that craft covers a wide range of practices, the research at hand furthermore identifies a category of craft that has become the epitome of Non-Western craft. These decorative and exotic artifacts are labor-intensive to produce, making them only marginally profitable for the makers. Yet there is an apparent emphasis on the promotion of this category within international craft development initiatives. The research concludes that the current practice of craft development initiatives cannot fully contribute to the development of the response capability of the local craft producers. Enhancing the impact of these initiatives would require serious reconsideration of product strategies and a re-think of the premises under which initiatives are undertaken. A new approach is suggested, one that examines design within a framework of social, economic and ecological sustainability, taking into consideration such socio-cultural issues as the peoples’ right to economic freedoms and the use of capabilities, building on the work of the economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.